I joined Instagram sometime around 2012 – post-new job in fashion and pre-algorithm. Everything, back then, was just fun and games. I was posting photos of things I was doing, seeing, and eating, for no other reason than to share them, and my following grew rapidly.
Whether in high school or college, I was always the one with a camera attached to my hand, snapping photos of my friends to share on my blog or on Facebook. I loved photography and there was no concept of “following” back then. Even at the start of the Instagram days, there was a purity and honesty to the content being shared. It was a creative outlet for some, or just a way to connect for others.
Now, breakfast spots were chosen for their photogenic avocado toasts and holidays were planned according to which hotel had the best photo ops.
Around the time when the algorithm hit, I had amassed a decent following. I was still very much enjoying Instagram for what it was: a platform to share genuine content. But everything changed pretty quickly after that. As the platform began pitting posts against one another, fighting for a spot atop followers’ feeds, engagement declined and growth for many (myself included) came to a screeching halt. There was one clear type of content that started to emerge as a winner, and those were highly engineered posts. Gone were the days of spontaneous snaps; now, breakfast spots were chosen for their photogenic avocado toasts and holidays were planned according to which hotel had the best photo ops.
Call it the homogenization of social media, if you will. In fact, look at all the big influencers you follow, most celebrities excluded, and you’ll find that many of them travel to the same “Instagrammable” places, wear the same “Instagrammable” trends, and post the same “Instagrammable” moments. But who can blame them? It’s a golden formula for getting the likes, comments, and following necessary to sustaining their business.
The result? Just more of the same. In fact, the content is so unengaging these days that if I asked you, after you’d been scrolling through the platform for five minutes, what photos you saw and, more importantly, who posted them, I bet that you’d be hard pressed to remember. I’ve been speaking to many people about this, both close friends and work acquaintances, and everyone seems to be suffering the same disillusionment with the platform. Has Instagram shot itself in the foot with this algorithm? 🤷🏽♀️
I literally don’t know how to play this game anymore. How to play this fucking algorithm. Yeah, stats don’t matter, likes don’t define you, ok. But when you put so much effort into CREATING and making your art and put it out into the world, only to feel like you’re putting it out to no one. To no one where there once was a supportive community of kind people who read captions and connected on feelings. Now I see little to no resemblance of that. I don’t know what it is. The mysterious algorithm? An over saturated platform? A platform who lost sight of its best parts to become a marketing platform? Cudos to the people who are still doing great on here, but I’m definitely far from it. I’m tired of this game of the algorithm and comment pods and sponsored posts and brand dishonest collaborations and disingenuous “thoughtful” captions. When I recommitted myself to this platform, I decided I would create art and continue to share my thoughts and ideas that are important to me no matter what. I wouldn’t get discouraged. But I’m really asking myself what the point is anymore. That’s how I’m feeling. It might sound arrogant and whiny and rude, but I feel like I’ve failed here, big time. An app that once brought so much positivity and connection is mostly just brings creepy messages from men and feelings of disconnection. It’s like we’re all trying to pump out the same shit and there’s no rhyme or reason to who gets rewarded. Call me insecure or sensitive or whatever. Maybe I shouldn’t be on an app designed to exploit me.
Furthermore, if, after that same five-minute scroll, I asked you if anything you saw added any form of value to your life at all, the answer would most often be “no”. I’m not saying that there isn’t a way to design your feed so as to make it inspirational as opposed to aspirational – which is, actually, the goal and which I will get to in a later article – but the truth, based on the accounts with the most following, indicates that we just aren’t doing that.
A few months ago, Dr. Saliha Afridi, a powerhouse of a woman and the Managing Director of Lighthouse Arabia, wrote an article for Goodness in which she used the following words: “This is a generation far more invested in showing themselves than knowing themselves.” That really got me thinking about the way I was using my time. Blink twice if you’ve found yourself 30 minutes deep into the dark hole of Instagram and not quite sure how you got there (based on my past experience, you’d probably picked up your phone to type a message to your mom). On that note, a friend of mine recently said, “It’s so hard these days to work on any form of self-discovery because, before you’ve even had the time to formulate your first thought, there are 14 notifications on your phone requiring your urgent attention.” Is the time we spend on social media – both scrolling through our feeds and crafting these perfect posts – time that could be better spent on different aspects of self-development? I would argue yes.
This is a generation far more invested in showing themselves than knowing themselves.
Another danger of Instagram, which is being discussed at length in articles and blog posts these days, is that your sense of self-worth can so easily become entangled with the platform. The more likes you get, the better you feel about yourself, and vise versa. According to many experts, that’s actually how Instagram was designed to work, getting you hooked [Read this Business Insider article to understand what happens to your brain when you get a like on Instagram]. This is something I personally struggled with in the past year. Does that say more about me and my insecurities than the platform? Perhaps. But I can’t help to think that it was designed to prey on people’s need to belong and be loved. Don’t even get me started on what Instagram is doing to young kids who are growing up with the platform as a crucial player in their most formative years. That’s a topic for another day.
Looking at my own Instagram account, I couldn’t help but feel that I had started playing the same game as so many others. Truth be told, I’ve been just as guilty of engineering my posts for likes and comment – doing it for the ‘gram, if you will – all in the hopes of maintaining likes and following. In fact, see below an example of a photo I had posted while on a trip to Istanbul; I loved the symbol on the crockery and the little purple flowers on the table, and this was a case of just sharing a moment that I enjoyed. The photo garnered a measly 86 likes, which I was okay with, and yet someone felt the need to comment on that (pardon his French). Seriously?
Below, on the other hand, is a photo of myself posing in the middle of a beautiful setting. The result? Almost four times more likes. The cost? Wasting almost 15 minutes trying to get the perfect shot. The message? Look how great my life is. Do you see where I’m going with this?
All of these thoughts had been circling in my mind for months. Every time I brought them up with friends, colleagues, or acquaintances, their reactions and comments told me that I wasn’t the only one thinking that way. So I decided to give it all up. For one full week, while on a yoga retreat in Ibiza, I was to log out of my Instagram account – and I did just that.
I still took photos, although, instead of taking 12 photos of the exact same thing to get the absolute perfect one, I was taking one or two and moving on. I was sending them directly to friends and family to show them what I had been up to. This was a much more intentioned and personal interaction than just posting them on Instagram. I was enjoying and capturing moments without feeling the need to say to someone “Hey, can you take a photo of me?” [Kindly refer to above photo]. When you think about it, isn’t the need to experience and capture every moment with yourself at the center of it all the definition of being self centered? Or at least one of them?
I’m loving being offline. I’m reading more. I stare out of the window and see things. I have more time for thinking. I have more time for journaling.
It’s July 19th today, and I have been back in Dubai for about two weeks – and yet I have not been able to bring myself to return to Instagram. Truth be told, I get a little bit anxious just thinking about it.
I’m loving being offline. I’m reading more. I stare out of the window and notice things. I have more time for thinking. I have more time for journaling. I’ve also realized how little the things I used to care about actually matter to me. I have no idea what the 600+ people I follow have been wearing, eating, doing, or saying, and that hasn’t affected my quality of life one bit. On the contrary, to find out how or what friends are doing, I now call them or schedule a catchup. I’ve come to realize that, in spite of being more connected to people than ever thanks to social media, I had never been more distant from them.
My pre-InstaDetox mornings always began with a quick scroll through the platform, which injected feelings of #Fomo and “I want” through my being before I’d even had my first cup of coffee. Don’t look so confused; you know exactly what I’m talking about. Well, things are different these days; I’ve finally managed to stick to my meditation practice and I’ve subscribed to newsletters like Tiny Buddha, so I’m feeding my soul first thing in the morning as opposed to poisoning it.
When thinking about taking a break from Instagram, one of my fears was being out of the loop, not knowing about new restaurant openings and happenings around town. Well, a quick scroll through Savoir Flair’s Culture pages, a couple of minutes on Time Out Dubai, and a phone call to a very informed friend told me everything I needed to know about what was happening in Dubai and London this summer.
Will I return to Instagram? Probably — after all, it’s a big part of my job. But I leave you with this parting thought: What if we started posting with different intentions? With the intention to add value to someone else’s life, or with the intention of just sharing a beautiful moment with people you love – without being at the center of it or without it having been chosen for the amount of engagement it would garner? Let’s take it back to basics.